Rating Rocks Egoyan’s Tawdry Showbiz Tale

by Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist

Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia)
September 12, 2005 Monday
Final Edition

It wasn’t listed alongside the Tandoori Chicken pizza, salmon burger
or other items being served, but surrealism was very much on the menu
when I caught up with Atom Egoyan over lunch at the Central Bar and
Grill almost two years ago.

It began when he revealed he had optioned Where the Truth Lies,
a tawdry tale of showbiz intrigue written by, of all people, Rupert
Holmes, the singer-songwriter best known for his hit The Pina Colada

Wow. Making a slick Hitchcockian drama about a 1950s Jerry Lewis and
Dean Martin-type comedy duo who become involved with a young woman
who’s later found murdered in their hotel room — a mystery set in
hotspots like Miami, London and Los Angeles, no less — seemed an
unlikely departure for an auteur best known for his dark meditations
on alienation.

That wasn’t nearly as surreal, however, as Egoyan’s lunchtime
recollection of a bizarre foul-up during a Mexican film festival’s
retrospective of his works. The program included Next of Kin, but
instead of his 1984 drama about a troubled 23-year-old who passes
himself off as an elderly Armenian couple’s long-lost son, a different
Next of Kin was advertised.

It was the 1989 vigilante action flick starring Patrick Swayze as a
Chicago cop who avenges his hillbilly brother’s murder.

“The audience was treated to this bizarre concept that my career
began with this big Hollywood movie with Patrick Swayze, and then I
did these tiny movies,” laughed Egoyan the other day, recalling one
of the most surreal episodes in his career.

But that was then, this is now, and it’s been eclipsed by his
experiences with the Motion Picture Association of America.

Egoyan is talking about his trip to Los Angeles last week to state
his case during an appeal, launched by THINKFilm, the Toronto-based
distributor of Where the Truth Lies, of the NC-17 rating the film
had received from the MPAA.

The rating was reportedly rendered because of “explicit sexuality”
generated by the use of camera angles for a threesome involving actors
Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon as the decadent vaudeville entertainers,
and Rachel Blanchard as their ill-fated sex partner. The film also
stars Alison Lohman as a journalist who investigates the mysterious
death years later.

To Egoyan’s dismay, the board upheld the restrictive rating that means
moviegoers under 18 can’t see the film in the U.S. (An NC-17 is the
kiss-of-death, since some media outlets will refuse to run ads and
certain theatres won’t even show it.)

“Last Wednesday was one of the most bizarre moments of my career. It
was just weird,” recalled Egoyan, hastening to add that “we won,
technically” since the board voted 6-4 to overturn the rating.

That wasn’t enough, however, since the rules state a two-thirds
majority is required. Now there’s talk of the film, like The
Aristocrats, being released unrated in the U.S.

Egoyan says when he first chatted about his movie over lunch, he never
expected there would be such a surreal outcome. “What’s surreal is the
added tension from the MPAA thing. The movie is certainly disturbing,
but because it features well-known actors people aren’t expecting to
see those kinds of things,” he said. “If it was a grainy low-budget
film that wasn’t widely distributed it wouldn’t have attracted any

Egoyan doesn’t buy claims that the MPAA’s rating was not about
censorship. He said his theory was validated when he was informed at
the last minute that Episcopalian and Catholic church representatives
would be sitting in on the hearing.

“It’s the result of a very conservative climate. They kept saying
they weren’t part of the decision-making process, that they were only
there as a presence. I’m sorry…come on,” he says incredulously.

Egoyan says he finds it “particularly absurd” given the reality of
our culture and an age in which there’s virtually no way to prevent
people from accessing whatever they want that censors would try to
ban filmgoers under age 18.

It’s a measure usually taken when a film is considered “hardcore,”
which he stresses Where the Truth Lies is not.

“Now, because of all the noise around it, it’s going to be fetishized
and the scene will be traded back and forth without any context at
all,” he says of the integral scene. “As a parent you should be there
with your son or daughter to talk about it.”

That’s why Where the Truth Lies would be released in the U.S. with an
R-rating if Egoyan had his way. “An R allows parents to assess the
maturity of their own child and accompany them if they feel their
child is prepared,” he says. “It doesn’t mean any child should see it.”

While he doesn’t think children the same age as his son Arshile, 12,
should see the film, he says he’d be comfortable taking a 17-year-old,
putting the action in context and having a discussion about the issues
it deals with, like adoration and the nature of celebrity. “These
are pertinent issues for young adults to be dealing with.”

Egoyan says he’s confident most people will enjoy the film and
hopefully not take it too seriously.

“It’s a film I had a lot of fun making. It’s tonally different,
although all my obsessions are there.”

Canadian moviegoers will get the chance to decide for themselves when
Where the Truth Lies opens Oct. 7.

It makes its North American premiere Tuesday at the Toronto
International Film Festival and opens in the U.S. Oct. 14.

GRAPHIC: Colour Photo: Atom Egoyan: Surprised at the NC-17 rating
for latest movie.

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